All the Ways We Can Politicize a Tragedy
How the media respond to mass shootings speaks volumes, and sticks to their scripts.
Following yet another significant mass shooting (the Atlanta one, not Boulder or any others that may have happened over the weekend) we turn to the most important question: How can it be politicized?
That means reflexively declaring the murders in Georgia a hate crime against Asians, apparently triggered within a mentally ill white man by remarks Trump made a year ago labeling COVID the “Wuhan Flu.” The women killed, who had a mix of Korean and Chinese names and some of whom may have been American citizens, were first turned into generic “Asians” and then into ubiquitous props—victims of, well, Trump, white supremacy, maybe all Fox News viewers.
Of the eight people shot, two, one-fourth, were not Asian at all and are quickly falling out of the media’s focus as not tracking with the narrative. Trump’s direct culpability may be grounds for another impeachment. Kidding. Of course the anti-Asian hate crime politicization is wrong.
Instead, we should all agree that the proper politicization is “guns are simply too easy to obtain in America.” While the media focused on the three quarters of the victims who were Asian, gleefully mispronouncing the “foreign” names (#SAYHERNAME, nah, too hard) and reaffirmed that “sex work” and the trafficking that drives it are A-OK (the media sang a different song about rub’n’tug joints when Patriots owner Robert Kraft was caught in one), they wasted valuable time not tracking down the gun store where the killer got his weapon.
All outlets skipped the interview with the gun store owner in his Lynyrd Skynyrd concert tee saying there were already too many laws against gun ownership. This could have been followed by a long discussion about whether the killer used an “assault rifle” or a “military-style weapon,” and whether his clothing was “tactical.”
But that politicization would have meant leaving out the “this will keep happening until we get socialized medicine, including mental health care” politicization. CNN would have wasted no time tracking down the killer’s neighbors, who would say either a) he was crazy as a drunk bedbug and everyone knew this was going to happen someday, or b) he was the quiet type, kept to himself, and that’s what worried them. Either way, had he lived in Sweden, mental health care would have saved those poor Asians and any other races shot. With thoughts and prayers, we ask, when will we learn, Chris? When will we learn? Back to you.
The mental health politicization is a good one because it dovetails well with the “dangers of social media (it used to be heavy metal and Satanism) and white supremacy” politicization. No doubt a Social Media Hate Crimes Task Force will locate some pretty odd stuff online (bonus points if it was on Parler). If the guy had any friends or followers, at least one of them would be pictured flashing some sign that we could be assured was a symbol of white supremacy—perhaps scratching his nose. It’s clear: Social media use causes white supremacy!
Politicization, in almost any of its forms, also means the media can have fun being racist. Ignoring that many crimes against Asian Americans appear to be perpetrated by black Americans (in NYC more than half of the perpetrators of anti-Asian hate crimes were black) this killer is not just white, he’s that kind of white, the really bad kind, being from the South, and rocking that Joe Dirt cosplay look. We all just know he has a Confederate flag on his bumper, or at least thought about getting one after he cashed his last welfare check whilst complaining about gay socialism.
Sooner or later we’ll learn the killer was afraid of losing his high status as a white man, marked by a lifestyle that included cheap massage parlors and a flip phone. All followed by someone calling white people a “public health crisis” and another chiming in with, “White fragility is a disease, and it just killed six Asian women.”
Every proper politicization benefits from a religious sub-angle. The killer was a Southern Baptist who told a roommate he worried about falling “out of God’s grace” for watching too much porn. So the NYT visited the killer’s church to reveal its “bylaws include a lengthy passage on marriage and sexuality that condemns ‘adultery, fornication, homosexuality, bisexual conduct, bestiality, incest, polygamy, pedophilia, pornography, or any attempt to change one’s sex.'” Dang!
Then the Times Googled deep to find that the church’s lead pastor preached a sermon about gender roles back in September, drawing on a biblical passage which instructs women to dress modestly and to “learn in quietness and full submission.” For those reading outside of Austin or the coasts, that’s all progressive code to say the killer’s natural sexual urges were warped by some messed up religious doctrine, which is why he killed people, just like all those raised in a conservative church eventually get around to doing. Religion radicalized him, like with ISIS, but not the Colorado shooter kind.
To be fair, there is debate within the oppression Olympics community over which politicization scheme is best employed. “People on here literally debating if this was a misogynistic attack against women or a racist attack against Asians,” tweeted the founder of an Asian-American feminist and pop culture blog. “What if — wait for it — it was both.”
Others wove a rich word tapestry of blame, coming up with “racialized misogyny” and “male supremacist terrorism.” One prominent feminist author wrote, “I don’t care that the shooter told police his attack wasn’t ‘racially-motivated.’ This was a racist misogynist crime.” She also said “we should sideline white male reporters when it comes to mass shootings because they obviously can’t be objective.” Sorry.
Democratic Senator Tammy Duckworth agreed the evidence be damned if it does not fit the story line. She expressed doubts about the FBI director’s assessment that the shooting may not constitute a hate crime, because from several hundred miles away “it looks racially motivated” to her on TV. “Millions of white Americans yearn to destroy the satanic forces they blame for the collapse of their communities,” commentedSalon, as if that settled everything about the Atlanta killings in a sentence.
After reluctantly admitting “very little is known about the motives of the Atlanta gunman,” the Times quickly added, “but organizations that track hate crimes have paid increasing attention to misogyny as a ‘gateway drug’ to other types of extremism, such as violent racism.” (For younger readers, the term “gateway drug” was last used seriously by anti-marijuana crusaders in the 1980s certain one joint would have you addicted to heroin within a week.)
An organization which claims to be a “grassroots Chinese massage parlor worker coalition” tried for a theory of everything, stating: “Whether or not they were actually sex workers or self-identified under that label, we know that as massage workers, they were subjected to sexualized violence stemming from the hatred of sex workers, Asian women, working class people, and immigrants.” The term for all this share-the-blame is “intersectionality,” which deals with problems like racism and sexism that overlap to create Venn diagrams of social injustice, as well as apparently endless commentary, itself so full of hate.
And if the story of the media creating a racist narrative to fit their needs sounds familiar, it is. Remember the Covington kids, whom the media cast without evidence as racist bullies who attacked an elderly Native American? There was no evidence to support the story and much to show it was wrong, but the MSM went off anyway—all the way to losing a defamation lawsuit—to show that those white, Catholic, MAGA jugend were the bad guys.
And as if you needed more evidence, pay attention to the relative lack of attention paid to the Boulder incident. Where are the rallies, the ethnic celebrities to tell us what to think? Is Biden on his way to Colorado to sing “Amazing Grace”? Unless the killer has a wacky manifesto in his closet, meh. And the killer was a Muslim who killed Americans. Remember when that was a thing in mass shootings?
Back in Atlanta, there seems little interest in weeping for the dead, unless that act too can be used for some political purpose amid more performance-art journalism. The politicization of tragedies is so instant and so ingrained, even as the narrative shifts with popular whims, that it prevents us from ever understanding what really happened. Nowhere will we let this thing just be what it is, as if it is not terrible enough on its own: yet another mentally ill person in a violent, hateful, soulless, divided society.
Peter Van Buren is the author of We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People, Hooper’s War: A Novel of WWII Japan, and Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the 99 Percent.